Vern Pickup-Crawford 
Prek-12 Legislative Update 1/26/17

Palm Beach School administrators fanned out across the Capitol this week as part of FASA (Fla Assn Schl Adminrs) to meet with almost all PBC Delegation members, key legislators and committee staff to discuss concerns and suggestions related to state assessment and testing, recruitment/retention of teachers, more flexibility to local school districts for program and operational decision-making, and awareness of a pending study on mandatory cost caps for school construction.

Participating were the School administrators Assn team of Will Latson (Spanish River), Jeff Eassa (Woodlands), Bob Hatcher (Western Pines), Sari Myers (Hidden Oaks), Kim Evans (PB Gardens El), and Karen Whetsell (Suncoast) with Exec Dr. Art Johnson joined by Staff Assn members Jim Kunard (construction mgt), PJ D’Aoust (FTE mgt), Heidi Riddle (North Area), and Shirley Knox (Facilities) with Exec Pat Kaupe. Delegation meetings with Rep. Bill Hager and Al Jacquet had to be rescheduled due to conflicts. The group spent time with House Education Chair Mike Bileca, Senate Ed Appropriations Chair David Simmons and Vice-Chair Bill Montford and with the staff director and analysts for the Senate Education Committee who write the bills.

Highlighted were shortening the required testing cycle with results back to schools before the end of the school year, reducing the number of state-required exams including some EOC’s and allowing districts to use ACT/SAT in lieu of 10th grade state FSA tests; retooling various programs such as Best and Brightest to support programs such as teacher loan forgiveness, streamlining teacher certification, giving greater operational and program flex to schools and school districts to use resources where they best meet student needs, and citing difficulty in teacher hirings and retention, given Florida’s lower salary and benefit levels compared to Georgia and other states.

The topics on state assessment will be part of a pending bi-partisan bill to be filed soon. The issues on recruitment and retention will get play in Senate Ed Appropriations this session. As for budget, read below.

The team of administrators also served both aa prelude and re-emphasis of similar points made by Supt. Robert Avossa who was one of five superintendents testifying before Senate Education Appropriations yesterday. The team also had a chance to brief Dr. Avossa after the committee meeting on their efforts during Tuesday and Wednesday. Both “Dr. J” and Pat will have more for members of the respective organizations.

Following a state process that all agencies are doing this week, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart today provided House Education Appropriations Committee members with what a 10% state budget reduction from current year would look like. (Let me emphasize at this point this is an exercise, not the real thing, as committees work on a balanced budget for FY18.)

For Prek-12 Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) state funds, the Department projects a cut of $700.6 Million, 9.26%, from a current year recurring revenue base budget of $7.569 Billion. These are state recurring dollars only and do not include either any non-recurring state dollars nor any local tax dollars. That reduction, however, would mean a drop in total student potential funds of $261/FTE to about $6943/FTE, an amount only $5.77 higher than the appropriated budget for FY15. Stewart acknowledged there would be direct cuts to student programs if such a budget reduction were implemented.

Chair Manny Diaz said the committee will meet on February 9th to get verbal recommendations from each committee member on what could be reduced or cut that falls within the scope given two weeks ago of between $245 and $485 million for public schools (this includes charter school as well). The full FLDOE packet, which also shows recommendations regarding all other programs, can be downloaded here.

At this point, it’s a given the House will come up with some sort of “cut budget.” The final House position will be refined going into session that starts March 7th. We also expect, based on published comments, that speaker Richard Corcoran plans to freeze the dollars generated by local school property taxes at the current year dollar level (so-called “rollback” rate) and reduce the Required Local Level millage rate down, accordingly.

The Senate is not as far along as the House, but Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala has indicated he Senate will not please folk, but expects it to be higher than the House. The Senate has set aside the week of February 13th for budget meetings only.

Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee passed SB2 and SB4 which make performance, program structural and other changes to higher education institutions. The bills are a priority of Senate President Joe Negron. District staff handling articulation agreements with state colleges and universities should review them. The information packet that includes the bills and staff analyses for explanation of them can be downloaded here.

Also in the Senate, Criminal Justice Committee members passed 5-2, SB196 that requires a school police or resource officer or police office on campus to issue either a civil citation or refer the student to a diversionary program upon first contact for a specified list of infractions. This is legislation carried over from last year and supported strongly by those who wish to avoid having juveniles officially arrested and is opposed by others who believe law enforcement should have the discretion to use civil citation, other diversionary program such as Youth Court, or make an arrest depending on the circumstance. The bill goes next to Criminal Justice Appropriations. The back-up and bill are downloadable here. SB192, also in the packet, was not heard and postponed to the next meeting

Most other education-related committees this week were informational:
House Prek-12 Innovation heard presentations on successful choice and academy programs from school districts and charter schools.
House Prek-12 Quality Education had an FLDOE review of the procedures to be followed if a public school gets into the “turn-around” category for not improving as a low performing school.
House Higher Education Committee discussed background information related to civics instruction at that level.
Senate Education Appropriations had an FLDOE review of existing teacher incentive laws and fund sources, then heard from a panel of school superintendents on what is being done in some districts and what recommendations they may have.
Back on budget, we are waiting for the Governor to release his 2017-2018 budget recommendations which are due between now and the end of next week. No indication has been given on levels of funding nor programs nor whether he will present a “cut” budget. The State Board of Education last September recommended to him a 2.48% budget increase for Prek-12 programs. Gov. Scott this week focused on a $618 million package to cut business taxes and provide for several tax-free holidays including extension of the tax-free holiday for purchase of school supplies from three to 10 days.

Federally, we remain glued to our computers and Congressional schedules on any actions related to budget funding for our 2017-2018 school year. And, at last report, the full Senate reportedly is scheduled to vote on confirmation of President Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, next Tuesday, January 31st.

Enjoy the weekend,